There have been a lot of previously independent minded people on the left mentioning that they may be considering joining the Labour party. The coalition’s shock therapy on public services is obviously creating a great deal of unease, and joining the sole major national opposition seems like a sensible thing to do. Furthermore, with a leadership election and perception that the party is at a crossroads, it would seem now is a good time to enter the party and try to shape its future direction.

The problem is I think that this is a flawed piece of thinking. It seems to stem from a view of the current problems of the British state that sees the problems as being primarily caused by the fact the conservative party are in power, and that therefore the solution to our problems is to remove them and replace them with what now seems the only alternative.

And that is a very depressing thought. Do we really forget about the last 13 years and the abuses of power Labour inflicted upon us simply because we have a conservative government practicing BDSM on the economy?

The answer clearly has to be no, and if we are serious about examining why the state repeatedly adopts illogical, sub-optimal economic and social policy that benefits a few at the expense of the many then the answer  “because the conservative party are in power” makes little sense. To sum up, is the problem the conservative party, or the nature and structure of the British political system?

The former just isn’t plausible with any long term analysis. Yes the political parties have differences and can be expected to react to events differently, but there are also other influences and incentives at play.

To be fair, most of the indie leftists already know this, but feel that:

“It’s easier now that much of the old-guard from May 2010 have been ousted or retired. My hope now is that the party takes a different road now to reconnect with those voters again.”

In other words, labour may have been part of the problem, but it now has a chance to rehabilitate itself in opposition. It is a comforting view. The problem is that a great deal of the party remaining show no signs of understanding that they need to change; indeed many are actively conspiring with the conservative establishment to resist structural changes. One thinks of Tom Harris MP producing his absurd and bizarre posters against AV, and the GMB actively deciding to finance the no campaign in the referendum (as if they were strapped for cash….). It isn’t just on electoral reform that the old guard seek to maintain the duopoly, several senior labour party members (David Blunkett) actively attempted to prevent a lab-lib dem coalition following the election and now leadership candidates such as Ed Milliband want to refuse to work with the lib dems. At times it feels as if the party is almost glad to be in opposition.

But perhaps worst of all is that the ‘old guard’ are actually making no attempt to ‘reconnect with those voters’ who deserted the party, save for absurdly believing that if only they were tougher on immigrants and welfare recipients they would have won. It takes real ignorance and stupidity to think that Labour’s election loss came because of this.

You can of course argue that at least joining the party enables one to challenge these dinosaurs, but it is unlikely that the old guard are going to go down that easily. They’ll view everyone who abandoned them as a naïve child returning to the fold, never to abandon it again, and this will strengthen the political duopoly of the UK. Actually the solution is to break the duopoly not to maintain it by seeing one party as the only vehicle for change.

Furthermore I don’t think a partisan hatred of the Tories helps anyone. Outside of its economic policy (truly destructive) there are actually a few policy areas where the coalition is more preferable to continued new labour dominance:

(1)    Criminal Justice: The announcements of ending short term prison sentences, abolishing asbos and the noises about ending mandatory life sentences for murder  illustrate a contempt for the Daily Mail that is truly welcome. At this rate we may even see science re-introduced to the drug classification system.

(2)    Immigration policy has become less draconian with the intention to end child detention, the ending of deportation of gay asylum seekers to Iran, and Theresa May’s decision to examine ways of extending loopholes in no recourse to public funds laws to ensure women fleeing abusive relationships can obtain places in women’s refuges.

(3)    The great repeal is going to remove some of the more draconian aspects of new labour, re-instating the right to protest and ending ID cards for example.

There are also some other factors that are positive; it is a coalition so at the next election the conservatives and lib dem campaigns (at least against each other) are going to be more policy orientated and less personal, and coalition politics will become decontaminated in the conservative mind. But perhaps the biggest factor to admire is the actual balls of the government; it is acting like it has a 3 figure majority when it is in reality a coalition. It has aims and objectives and it is setting out to achieve this regardless of what the opposition says; Blair had a 3 figure majority twice and pissed it away. It’s almost refreshing to see a government not care about the polls.

The problems in the UK do not stem from the persistent popularity of the conservative party, and are not going to be solved by simply replacing the governing party with another. They stem from a duopoly system that has enabled both parties to commit major abuses of power whilst being too frightened of a media that frequently acts as the biggest obstacle to rational and sane policy. Rather than join one of the duopoly it makes more sense to try and break it up. This means saying to the labour party “you are part of the problem”.

I think a large contingent of independent lefties (whatever that word means) campaigning for decent candidates (be they labour, lib dem, Conservative or whatever) or against crap candidates (Nadine, Phil Woolas) is far preferable to another large labour majority full of whipped MPs. I’d take Ken Clarke over Blunket any day, and David Willets over Tom Harris? Not even a contest. Hell I’d even have IDS over some of the blairites now pretending to give a shit about people on benefits.

So that’s why I’m not joining the labour party.

In an example of ‘Top blogging’ by amateur economists commenting on social issues, burning our money (via dillow) make the case for prison building.

It’s the usual case of bloggertarians having their cake and eating it. On the one hand it starts with a sceptical take on the usefulness of crime statistics – in this case a critical comment on the british crime survey:

“Yesterday we got the final instalment of those stats – the annual update of crime for 2009/10 as recorded by the police, alongside the results of the British Crime Survey (ie the crime opinion poll). And – surprise, surprise – both showed another fall”

It then implores the government to use the more statistically accurate way of measuring crime (the personal experiences of the blog author) and stop wasting our money on minor things like the collecting of evidence.

However, the article then goes on to demonstrate the author’s knowledge of criminology, and decides that the BCS is in fact a valuable tool for analysis. He collates the crime stats and correlates them with prison places over the last 15 years (starting from the peak year for crime), and finds that there is a strong relationship between the two. He then looks at possible reasons for this and declares that actually prison works, and is behind the fall in crime.

It’s actually an argument I’m pretty sympathetic towards, and the correlation repeats when you look at the experience of the US as well. On the other hand, the Scandinavian countries (and some others) are generally more lenient towards crime than ourselves, and also have lower rates of crime.

What is somewhat annoying, and indicative of the wider bloggertarian approach to social issues, is the tendency to either use statistics uncritically in order to support wild conclusions or to dismiss the statistics entirely (usually on spurious grounds) when they don’t support one’s world view. The statistics support the view that prison works, but they also support the view that new labour’s approach to crime and anti-social behavior (broken windows theory suggesting the two are closely linked) was a success. This is particularly important when we consider the coalition intends to change criminal justice policy by abolishing short sentences.

Another funny thing is quite why a website entitled “burning our money” is so uncritical of an authoritarian solution that involves the government spending shedloads of cash.

All in all its exactly the kind of content free partisan type post, and if that is an example of ‘top blogging’ then I’ll stick to reading crime articles written by people with some knowledge of criminology.

(some initial thoughts, please play devil’s advocate)

Imagine a volcano erupts in the middle of the ocean and creates a new landmass –complete with rivers, fertile land, decent natural resources etc. In one of the most unlikely events in human history, this land mass remains unclaimed, and soon millions of immigrants flock to the new landmass. They collectively have to decide on a new system of politics, create a judicial system, establish laws and institutions etc. Free from any traditions or established ways of doing things [1], they are able to discuss how their new state should work without the voice of tradition.

This is actually a common thought experiment as it asks us to consider what systems, or practices, are based on logic and principles of fairness or justice, and which ones are sufficiently stupid that nobody else would seek to create them. For example it is unlikely that this new state would introduce the practice of hereditary peers in its legislative chamber, fund homeopathic treatments through a public health program or allow various types of religious loonies to educate its young.

On the other hand there are obvious limitations of applying this type of thought experiment, in the real world those emigrating to this new country would bring their existing beliefs about the way things should be, they would bring their old cultural, social and religious practices, and would probably try to re-create their old social lives with the same music, sports etc. Even the comments above assume the group would decide on a democratic system of governance. We are essentially always going to be trapped by our own history and our cultural values.

A conservative would also go further, and point out that human history is littered with examples of totalitarian dystopias that have emerged precisely from the attempts to create societies based upon ‘visions’. The basis of conservatism was precisely a reaction to the French revolution, and a belief in the virtue of ‘tradition’. If something has been done in a certain way for a long period of time, then that is in-itself an argument for continuing to do it in this way. We fuck with things we don’t fully understand at our peril, and a version of the hippocratic oath is something that governments should be forced to take.   A  persuasive argument against ‘progressives’ can be found here that elaborates on many of these points.

So why is that many actual Conservatives (as in members of political parties or movements associated with conservatism) routinely forget the basics of their philosophy and frequently propose schemes aiming to radically change countries, and systems?  Online libertarians are at the extreme end of this spectrum (and wouldn’t claim to be conservatives), often arguing for the wholesale destruction of many parts of the mixed economy, to be replaced by pure free markets.

One of the most common questions on politics examinations is whether Thatcher was a radical? (or some other version of asking the question). The student is expected to answer the question by demonstrating some knowledge of the changes to the UK that occurred under Thatcher, and contrast the philosophical approach of her government with that of the UK’s post war political consensus.

It is undeniable that Thatcher’s governments privatised many industries, broke the power of trade unions and reduced direct taxation amongst numerous changes. Yet Dillow points out that in reality Thatcher cut overall spending once, and only froze it once. So the aim to reduce the size of the state wasn’t fulfilled (instead what happened was changes in the role of the state).

So we have to bear this in mind when it comes to the proposed cuts of the leberal dimocrat /conservative administration. An actual cut rather than a change in types of spending is a massively major change in the way the UK is run. So why is it not being opposed by conservatives?

After all, the UK has been a mixed economy, with state provision of healthcare, education, social services, welfare provision etc for over 60 years. Indeed for the vast majority of British born people, the NHS really is a national icon, with us having never lived without it. Indeed any remotely successful state worth living in is a mixed economy with the principle that the state provides healthcare, education and welfare services. The other political models are either absolute totalitarian regimes where the state is all powerful or collapsed states like Somalia. In other words libertarians and ultra ‘free market’ conservatives have no actually existing model to use that is remotely desirable. Which is probably why many are reduced to arguing about different service delivery methods based upon market simulations (eg: voucher schemes for education funding – Even then the number of places using pure vouchers is measurable on one hand).

This leaves us with the somewhat uncomfortable conclusion that the real inheritors of the conservative tradition are the democratic (as opposed to revolutionary) left, and in particular the centre-left parties of Europe who have always pursued more pragmatic and practical programmes aiming to build on what has already been achieved.

Contrast this with the rhetoric of the coalition government, who are using the alleged budget crisis to propose massive cuts and changes in the role of the state. Nor are they averse to proposing authoritarian measures to achieve this. In fact if the leadership was named Davidov Cameronsin and Nick Il Clegg (sorry for the poor imagination) and the country based in Eastern Europe or Asia we would regard the extent to which it proposed to change things as a revolutionary programme. And actual conservatives would oppose such changes, and warn that the vision should be treated with the utmost scepticism.

So with what is being proposed, it is now time to create left wing conservatism and defend the traditions of the mixed economy, and the principles of welfare, public service, and progressive taxation.

Drug War Latest


From this report:

“At least 23,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since December 2006, when President Calderon ordered the army and federal police to combat the cartels.”

Another positive for prohibition.

The comments thread at LC’s article against the minimum price for alcohol has proven to be hilarious for a further demonstration of the sociological ignorance of Tim Worstall et al, whose approach to the issue is at best naive and at worst dangerous and actually illiberal (I’ll explain why later).

The approach of the Worstall tendency to social and health policy issues is generally to examine matters from the perspective of examining what the externalities of certain market transactions are, and then ensure the externalities are priced and paid for via a pigou tax. Hence the solution to social problems caused by alcohol is taxation, the solution to damage caused to non-smokers through passive smoking – well that’s another tax as well, and the solution to the externalities of carbon consumption – yep, a tax. In fact whenever an externality arises, the preferred solution is a tax. (Can you start to see why this is an illiberal approach). It’s also worth noting the tendency of libertarians to start to deny, or play down the externalities here whether the issue is passive smoking or climate change.

But the question of pricing externalities correctly in a cost-benefit analysis has one major problem; often the externalities are as much about the way a good is consumed as they are about the consumption of the good itself. Here is where the sociological truism comes in, goods are consumed in different ways and with different effects by different people at different times. Alcohol is almost the classic example of this. Here are 4 examples of different types of alcohol consumption that clearly have different positive and negative social consequences.

  1. People having a few glasses of wine in the evening at a social event following a business conference
  2. Lads on a stag do drinking until they puke
  3. Somebody getting drunk at a music festival.
  4. A mother spending all day getting drunk on cheap supermarket booze (and as a result neglecting her children).

The traditional way of calculating pigou taxes simply adds up the costs of all types of alcohol consumption (policing town centres, hospital costs, social workers and care costs, rehab costs etc) and uses this to calculate an appropriate per unit level of alcohol tax. Ironically this is very similar logic to those advocating a minimum price of alcohol, they’ve simply calculated the social costs and worked out what the minimum price should be based on this calculation. It’s actually amusing how the bloggertarians consider the latter completely illiberal, but the former totally legitimate, and I can only guess that it’s because the former is proposed in economics textbooks whereas the latter is advocated by people who don’t generally work in the city stealing our pensions.

Yet both are illiberal approaches because they impose the costs of alcohol consumption upon every drinker without considering that people consume alcohol differently, and its effects are different. For example I enjoy getting drunk on the weekend at live music gigs and rock clubs. In over 14 years of going to these places I have only ever seen one fight (started by somebody not in the scene). Yet the chav meat market down the road regularly results in ambulances and police cars turning up. Both myself and the violent drunk down the road pay exactly the same taxes on our drink, allegedly to cover the social costs of our drinking.  Let’s have another example to avoid the accusation that all I am doing here is a “my subculture is better than yours” argument. A member of CAMRA who enjoys real ales pays exactly the same taxes on his beer as a drunken bastard who beats his family up. The occasional drinker doing no harm pays the same tax as the alcoholic drinking himself to death. We pay exactly the same regardless of the damage our consumption does

And this is the Liberal approach! Punishing everyone for the actions of the few?


The real tragedy of this is that such an approach has actually made the situation worse. Sticking to the public consumption of alcohol, any police officer or pub goer will tell you that in every city some pubs and clubs contribute more to the violence than others, with a few places having developed very nasty reputations. Yet all pubs will be subjected to the tax, and licensing costs (question – are these the same, or similar, for all pubs?) and regimes. Furthermore the family-run old village pubs are less able to absorb the costs of this than large chains who can have economies of scale. Yet which do you think are more likely to promote responsible drinking in a friendly, peaceful atmosphere?

And consumption of alcohol in public places is also different to consumption in home. In a public place, there are trained first-aiders, staff that should be looking out for you and can tell when you’ve had enough, and possibly even friends who can stop you doing stupid things. An alcoholic in the home has nobody to supervise him.

The real tragedy of recent years has been the decline of the traditional pub, and its replacement by cheap supermarket booze. A place where alcohol was enjoyed in a sociable manner, created social capital, and was an asset to numerous communities has been replaced by a form of consumption that is solitary and harmful. Anecdotally organisations involved in helping victims of domestic violence report that consumption in the home is linked to domestic violence.

The taxation approach to dealing with social costs has failed to consider the way alcohol is consumed , and instead forces a blanket tax on all regardless of how we consume it. Instead of this simplistic approach to dealing with the real harms alcohol can cause, it might be a more intelligent idea to consider the ways in which it is consumed, and how we can deal with the really harmful forms of consumption whilst not punishing those whose consumption creates fewer problems, and arguably benefits society. And it is far more liberal to do this than taxing everyone.

Twenty quid says Israel will escape the latest episode with no real consequences. Sure, various countries will issue statements expressing concern, a few more people may try to boycott Israeli goods with a limited degree of success, and perhaps some military co-operation on trivial matters will be suspended until the publicity dies down. But what happened on the weekend is not unusual, every so often Israel does something that on the surface seems to be a ‘PR own goal’ but the fuss usually dies down.

Even then it’s not quite clear what the own goal is. The usual suspects are out in force defending Israel, arguing that the aid activists were equally responsible or provoked the fight, and I can’t be bothered to look at what Mad Mel and the neo-cons (idea: use that name for a female fronted punk band) have been saying.  It has long been clear that if the entire Israeli cabinet were caught in a brothel full of child prostitutes we’d find a post on Harry’s place the following day explaining that the children concerned weren’t entirely innocent as they had been equally engaged in the process of fucking each other, and in any case Hamas were also full of paedophiles. We’d also then find speculation in the comments box that the child prostitutes were really just adults anyway.

The issue of Israel/Palestine has of course been the one of the main magnets for the loons (so consider this post a shameless attempt at getting traffic), and the latest incident proves this. It is a conflict where only one solution is possible; as Kenneth Waltz argues more generally, give everyone nuclear weapons and peace will follow. Once both sides in this conflict enter a state of mutually assured destruction, then peace will emerge. If the theory is wrong, then at least a nuclear war would rid the area of its troublesome and stupid political leaderships, although I do suspect that if there were 2 survivors they’d still end up in a perpetual fistfight (even if they were both originally from the same side).

I had a free lunch.

So there.

Non political post here, but no apologies for it.

I only saw Dio once, in 2007 touring with Heaven and Hell. To me, they were really Black Sabbath, but a Sabbath for the actual fans rather than the ones who dance to paranoid in clubs but know nothing else by the band. Its also one of my regrets that I missed half of Iced Earth that day due to being in the pub, but you can’t really go and see Sabbath sober anyway.

Dio had a fantastic voice, but to his credit he didn’t go down the celebrity route like Ozzy, and remained Metal to the end.

Labour Strategy


Sunny has started the ball rolling on what future labour strategy should now be. I agree with the main conclusion that Labour needs to be a broad church, and keep the centre ground, avoiding 1983-esque stupidity. So here are some more specific suggestions:

  1. Don’t have a new leader for the first 18 months. Get a labour veteran in as a caretaker whilst the party sets out to renew itself and discusses what it is for.
  2. Don’t vilify the lib dems for taking the deal. The conservatives were the only ones able to make a realistic offer of coalition, a second election soon would have bankrupted them and left Cameron with a large majority. The lib dems got a far better deal than their position indicated. If they get vilified now, then they will move closer to the tories. It is essential that the possibility of a future deal with them remains.
  3. Let the press do your work for you. Spending cuts will lead to service levels dropping and the media will go out to find scare stories of patients dying. All labour needs to do in this circumstance is emphasise they are the party of public services.
  4. Think Local. In seats with established labour MPs the swing to the conservatives was far less than those where the candidate was new. This suggests experience and local reputation are extremely important. The lesson for marginal constituencies  and other areas when retirements/deaths create vacancies is that candidates need to be local and have established track records locally – whether through local government or as local businessmen or charity directors.
  5. A side effect of this is that central party control and parachuted candidates are not effective. The party itself needs to devolve and de-centralise, and to take a positive view of dissent.
  6. The labour party needs to be the vehicle through which opposition takes place, and expressed in parliament. This means raising concerns and issues not traditionally associated with the labour party; eg: High Fuel Prices,
  7. Build left wing infrastructure – create blogs, fund think tanks and use online techniques to promote the party.

Can anybody out there translate the following paragraph from postmodernism to english please?

“Subjects are called upon to perform energy practices by terms
of engagement set by more powerful network managers, but their co-enrolment in
national scale environmental and energy market diagrams as well as domestic
diagrams of cost aversion makes their practices hybrid entities, in the sense that
practice entities (Shove, 2007) are not only relationships between a single set of social
beliefs located in a single technical and economic context but are the outcomes of the
interaction between multiple sets of co-present social and economic orderings and the
technical objects and spaces which they share.”